Review: “Love and Information”
Words by Matilda Alex-Sanders
Any brief, pat description of Caryl Churchill’s play “Love and Information” is near impossible and doomed to failure. This year’s SUDS major is a series made up of 57 vignettes, 20 actors and 8 months of work. It is a labour of love, and it shows – before the show started, the cast got into their positions bristling with excited energy and suppressed giggles. The decision to use Erskineville’s PACT centre for emerging artists was, in hindsight, a wise choice. The sound of trains, traffic and the mournful drone of airplanes above added a credible ambience to the play's theme: the challenges of intimacy in modern life.
Churchill’s 2012 play is a fragmented view of the everyday. Her characters drift and bumble, eat, sleep, bicker, cry, fall in and out of love, gossip and ponder the unknowable. The whole spectrum of human experience – from life to death – is depicted here in an oblique manner. The play betrays its British origins – Blair and Brighton are mentioned and the piece is set mostly, if not entirely, within an articulate, middle class, urban milieu. The mise-en-scene, which comprises mostly of white drapes, and the minimal use of props was effective and utilized in clever ways. The soft cream, blue and lilac lighting (by Hannah Crane) and the sparingly used sound design (by Aaron Cornelius) was handled wonderfully, and a highlight of the show.
While scenes took place, the other cast members reclined in the background. This created an odd effect, as if Churchill’s characters are peripheral in their own life, if only for a moment. The whole distinction between participant and spectator is turned on its head, reminiscent somewhat of a Stephen Dwoskin film.
The cast had a lot of free reins to play around and experiment since Churchill’s script has only lines, no characterization or stage directions. There were certain vignettes that stood out more than others; Anja Bless has a natural gift for comedy, and every time she appeared, the scene was brightened by her presence. Her playing fetch with an invisible dog was funny, sad and unnervingly realistic all at once.
Jeremi Campese was another comic standout – he was great as the peevish, reclusive Mr Rushmore, giving his character all kinds of Charles Pooter-ish airs, relishing all the exaggerated gesturing; as well as depicting a bullying schoolboy and a child with an inability to feel pain: “I threw myself down the stairs because it was quicker.”
Michael Smith, with his matinee idol good looks, was blessed with two of the play’s most memorable scenes, both involving credibly charming and nervy young men; one being a poignant attempt at post-coital banter with an ex-girlfriend, the other an earnest outpouring concerning a vase of roses. In the latter scene especially, Smith’s quivery, breathless and slightly neurotic quality was absorbing.
Admittedly, some of the scenes came off as ham-fisted; too many scenes set in hospitals! The play was at its best when depicting the humorous or mundane minutiae of everyday life; when the play travelled into darker territory, it stumbled. Also worth noting is the use of ‘big ideas’ – one positive element was the way in which it made the intellectually daunting accessible (expect ruminations on the nature of God, or a Julian of Norwich wannabe who feels the Lord's presence to the very ‘tip of her toes’.) The nature and function of mathematics are also discussed more than once (I wonder if Churchill is interested in analytic philosophy?).
“Love and Information” is an elusive, slippery, occasionally frustrating, often hypnotic piece of work. The cast, directed by Imogen King, truly did it justice and created a vision of the contemporary world that feels true – a world filled with missed opportunities, empty gestures, sound bytes and where the swapping of trivia counts as normal conversation. By the play's end, I couldn’t help but remember E.M Forster and his famous epigram, which seemed very fitting: ‘Only Connect!’